- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A proposed area intended to preserve farmland and forests from development met its death Monday when the Charles County Planning Commission rejected the Priority Preservation Area on a 4-3 vote.
Commission Vice Chairman Joe Richard and commission members Joan Jones, Bob Mitchell and Lou Grasso voted to reject the PPA. Commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds and members Steve Bunker and Joe Tieger voted in support of the PPA.
The PPA was proposed to preserve three land areas in Nanjemoy, Cobb Neck and the Zekiah Swamp using a managed growth policy that would preserve 1.87 acres per acre developed.
The goal of the plan was to preserve 80 percent of the remaining undeveloped land in the PPA, including farmland and forests.
In order for the county to have a certified agricultural land preservation program with the state, the county needs to adopt a PPA plan element in its county’s comprehensive plan, which guides the county’s land use decisions.
Certification permits the county to retain 75 percent of tax revenues from agricultural land transfers rather than 33 percent without it. Revenues from agricultural land transfers have decreased in recent years due to the economic downturn.
PPA critics said it would hurt property rights and values, and that no proper mechanism was in place to compensate landowners who preserve land.
PPA supporters said that the plan was needed to preserve working forests and farmland from development.
Opponents and supporters of the PPA gave their thoughts on the PPA’s death Tuesday.
“I’m happy that it is settled. I think the landowners are happy that the planning commission is listening to them about private property rights,” said David Lines, a La Plata farmer.
Lines added that he believes that landowners who testified at the county commissioners’ public hearing March 20 will be happy to know that the PPA will not reduce their land values, because it is no more.
“It’s disappointing but not unexpected based on the performance of the commission in the past several months. Facts are not going to sway them,” said Hal Delaplane, president of the Conservancy for Charles County.
Delaplane said that the commission members could have benefited from studies that they rejected, such as a fiscal impact analysis, but that the commission would not be swayed by arguments, which is too bad.
“The conservancy’s position is that we do not expect agricultural land will be preserved without downzoning. A lot of experience and evidence out there says that downzoning does not reduce land values necessarily,” he said.
Delaplane criticized the commission’s rush to complete the comprehensive plan.
“They are hell-bent on finishing the plan in July for their own reasons,” Delaplane said. “The process has completely lost its transparency.”
The PPA started out as a proposal before a subcommittee that received public input at three public meetings.
Farmers, landowners, real estate agents and developers expressed opposition to the PPA, particularly an option to downzone the PPA from one unit per three acres to one unit per 20 acres.
The PPA went through a period of legal confusion earlier this year after the planning commission voted 4-3 Jan. 23 to withdraw its consideration from the PPA as an amendment to the 2006 comprehensive plan, which guides the county’s land use decisions.
County Attorney Barbara Holtz interpreted that the commission took no action on the PPA with the vote, which meant that the PPA was approved to go to the county commissioners.
After the county commissioners held a public hearing on the PPA March 20, the county commissioners sent the PPA back to the planning commission with a recommendation to seek advice from staff or outside experts to study the economic impact.
Several people at the hearing expressed opposition to the plan, saying that it would hurt people’s property rights and property values.
At the commission’s meeting March 26, a 3-3 vote to reject the PPA failed. Mitchell abstained, saying that the commission had already acted on the PPA.
Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth Theobalds said at Monday’s meeting that the Jan. 23 vote was a vote of inaction and that in her legal opinion, the county commissioners were not acting outside of their authority when they considered the PPA.
The commission deliberated over the motion for several minutes to ensure that the motion meant the commission was acting on the PPA, and eventually came up with wording Theobalds said would accomplish that.